First Movers in Molecular Detection: Case Comparison on Harnessing Research and Development, Industry, and Entrepreneurship

Kenneth B. Yeh, Matt Scullion, Julia M. Michelotti, Gene Olinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic underscores the importance of diagnostic assays in health security preparedness and readiness. Advancing new technologies for rapid molecular detection of high consequence infectious pathogens is an ongoing challenge that requires ingenuity and vision. Sustainment of a robust supply chain for materials and the logistics of timely product delivery further challenge diagnostic kit and device manufacturers. Business economists often characterize technology companies that discover unique breakthroughs in their field and are first to bring related products to market as first movers. From a market perspective, three first mover characteristics include: having the knowledge and capability to address a unique breakthrough, excellent technological leadership, and the ability to capitalize on the opportunity. Current mainstays for molecular detection include using Taq DNA Polymerase enzyme and fluorescent chemistry for quantitative PCR (qPCR). A newer and promising technology uses CRISPR-Cas proteins for nucleic acid detection. Our panel discussion from the 2020 ASM Biothreats conference, which included members from two prototypical first mover companies, explored their respective corporate experiences. Both companies were selected for the discussion based on their revolutionary innovations and similarities in their research and development, corporate culture and trajectory. One company, established over 20 years ago, became a market leader in the biothreat detection market by advancing air thermocycling qPCR across multiple product families. The second company is a rapidly growing start-up and a scientific pioneer in establishing next generation CRISPR technologies. Here we discuss their technology development, product deployment, and customer markets to draw lessons learned for researchers, end users, and funders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number639440
JournalFrontiers in Medicine
StatePublished - Mar 25 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • COVID-19
  • first mover
  • molecular detection
  • qPCR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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